Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Queer Stock Characters of Yore

It's pride month, y'all!

This is a picture of me at a Pride march when I was sixteen. Yes, that was my haircut at the time. I don't know what I was thinking, either.

That means it's time to celebrate all queer identities, and, in my case, read more queer fiction! But as you consume more media with queer characters, you may notice that they all tend to be... pigeonholed a bit, especially if the author is heterosexual, heteroromantic, and cisgender. So, children, today, I'm going to take you on a journey, so you can recognize these beasts when you come across them in the wild.

The Dead Lesbian

She's looking to eat something, alright, but it isn't brains.

You're watching a show or reading a book, and there's a female character you just love -- and, as a bonus, she's a lesbian! But be warned, reader; in most environments, fictional lesbians have a tragically short lifespan. She's here, she's queer, she's... dead. Ugh, add her to the pile. Yes, every lesbian (or other WLW) in media, especially TV, tends to wind up dead. They lure you in with the promise of representation, before ripping your heart out -- in the process of ripping her guts out. Lesbians in fiction: alive, happy, and not stereotyped.... pick two.

The Villainous Gay

What happens when Oscar Wilde gets in a lab accident.

They're here, they're queer, they're eeeeevil! This one is pretty self-explanatory; in certain environments, the only queer you'll come across in the wild is evil, depraved, and creepy. Females tend to get this especially bad. (I've already gone more into detail with this particular breed in this column.) According to most, The Villainous Gay is an endangered species, but personally, I won't be satisfied until it's truly extinct.

The Gay Best Friend

The stereotype may be demeaning, but the fashion sense is on-point.

This character only exists to back up the (straight) main character and provide advice. 99% of the time, they're a stereotyped gay guy who's best friends with a straight girl. It's not the friendship that makes this type of character so insulting -- it's the fact that they have no motivation, personality, or story arc outside of being the straight character's friend. If your only queer character's only role is to yell "YOU GO, GIRL!" at appropriate moments, you're doing it wrong.

The Gaybe

Time for another round of the hit game show, Gay or European? Hard mode: Lesbian or Art Student?

This breed is harder to spot, especially in the wild. This character is heavily implied to be queer. Maybe they fit into certain stereotypes (pro tip: this is called "coding." You can read about that here), maybe they openly appreciate the same gender's looks, maybe they have a lot of moments that imply they and another character of the same gender are more than friends. But... nothing is ever confirmed. If asked, the creators will give vague answers about the character's orientation. So you... might have found a queer character? Maybe? Who knows? (And as a fun little bonus, if you suggest to the fandom that maybe the character in question is queer because of the coding, you'll get straight people accusing you of being a homophobe!)

The Queerbait

Lean Sinchester from the hit show "Paranormal." ...What? Of course we're not subposting about a real show. That would just be immature. 

The close cousin of The Gaybe, this breed is much easier to find. This character is specifically designed to lure in the queer audience. They have all the subtext, all the hints, even some deliberately homoerotic moments with other characters... but then the creators turn around and assure us that the character is totally, 100% straight. And, in particularly bad cases, claim the audience is being delusional or naive if they saw queer subtext there. The subtext is used for fanservice or for jokes, but all the actual, serious development goes towards their real, heterosexual relationships, not those silly gay ones the fandom totally imagined.

The Phaser

You keep telling yourself that, hon...

Also known as the "experimented in college" or the "LUG" (Lesbian Until Graduation). This is a character that makes a reference to having had same-gender relationships in the past... but then promptly assures us that it was "just a phase" or "just an experiment." Because obviously, they're normal. Now, it is possible for The Phaser to evolve into a better developed queer character... but research shows that the chances are low.

The Asexual Android


On the rare occasion you have an asexual character in fiction, there's an unfortunate tendency for them to take the form of out-of-touch aliens, actual, literal androids and robots, or particularly cold and awkward humans. If you actually know an asexual person, then you know this isn't true. A lack of sexual attraction does not mean a lack of emotion or empathy. It just means a lack of sexual attraction. That's it. But fiction doesn't seem to have gotten the memo, and there are plenty of these types around.

The Window Dressing

In a perfect world, she'd distract all the straight, male bad guys, then roundhouse kick them while they were drooling.

These queer characters only exist for the titillation of the straight audience. From lesbians with male-gazey sex scenes to fetishized trans people, it's always a disappointment when an otherwise compelling and well-done queer character is suddenly turned into fanservice where straight, cis characters are not. It's a subtle form of homophobia and transphobia; bigotry disguised as a compliment. And, yes, straight people -- fetishizing queer people is a form of bigotry. Queerness isn't your fetish; it's our lives.

The Offscreen Gay

She's an invisisexual. She can only experience attraction to people we never see.

This character is explicitly stated to be gay, a lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or whatever... but never shown to be. They never have a partner, or even express any interest in any other people of the same gender. If they're bi, they may be with people of another gender. If they're gay, they probably don't have a partner at all. Don't expect a mention of any exes, either. (Note: this doesn't apply when the character has a reason in-story for not dating anyone.) This is what happens when a creator wants to pay lip-service to queer representation, but not actually follow through.

The Censored Gay

A vampire and her ex-girlfriend ex-gal pal.

Not to be confused with The Queerbait or The Offscreen Gay! I'm much more forgiving of this type, as most of the time, it's not the creator's fault. The Censored Gay is the result when a creator honestly wants to have a queer character... but for some reason, they can't. Maybe their sponsors will pull funding if they do. Maybe it's directed at children, and the higher-ups have deemed any hint of queerness "inappropriate." Maybe it's being created in a time and place when having a queer character could get you into serious legal trouble. So now the creator has a choice: either cut the queerness... or keep it in, but be sneaky about it. Have the gay couple get together, but cut the kissing and the "I love you." Leave just enough room for doubt. Be vague and subtle enough that technically, the censors can't complain. A popular method is to slip the confirmation in at the very last moment -- after all, what are they gonna do? Cancel them? If they're especially lucky, the fandom will pick up on it, and the support will be loud enough that in future installments, they're allowed to be more upfront about it.

The Vanishing Act
Studies show that you're less likely to find this one in the wild than you are to find Carmen Sandiego, Waldo, OR a good reason to ship Snily.

Also known as trans, nonbinary, pansexual, asexual, demisexual, in some cases bisexual, and basically any other non-gay or lesbian queer character. Why do I call them The Vanishing Act? Because according to about 96% of media, THEY DON'T EXIST. Every time you think you may have found one, they fade away just as you get close enough to investigate... They're like a candle in the wind...

The Unicorn

Shhh, approach it quietly, or you'll scare it away!

This is a queer character that's well-written. They're not stereotyped. They're not killed for shock value. They're not fetishized or forced into the role of a cis, het character's cheerleader. They're explicitly queer, but it's not their only defining trait. You have also never come across one in the wild. You may have created some yourself, but finding them in media is like trying to romance a Veela. You see something and it looks like what you want from a distance, but then you get too close and see it's not what you wanted at all, and in fact may very well rip your face off. Your friend swears they've come across The Unicorn once, but you'll never know for sure.

Thanks for reading this column! Who are your favorite Unicorns? Did I forget any types? Tell me about them in the comments below!

The art in this column was commissioned from DorothyWonderland. Dorothy is a fabulous artist, and you can find more of her work (and request commissions!) HERE.

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